APARTMENT BUILDINGS AND THE ART OF MAINTENANCE: PLUMBING TIPS FOR THE INVOLVED OWNER
As a commercial real estate brokerage firm in Los Angeles, we have helped hundreds of clients obtain and maintain their commercial properties. Our clients include companies, financial institutions and other large organizations. Yet there is a special satisfaction we get from working with individual owners and helping them to acquire and manage the investment opportunities of their dreams. It is no secret that multi-family commercial properties are amongst the best ways to invest your money, especially in and around highly populated cities like Los Angeles. However, apartment buildings can present a number of challenges for even the most experienced of owners, chief among them expenses related to repairs. What follows are two tips for the hands-on owner with regard to perhaps the most important aspect of an apartment building: plumbing.
Tip Number 1: The Pipes are Calling – Know Your Plumbers!
We often tell our clients that the single most important aspect of building is often the most overlooked – the pipes!
The plumbing system is essentially the nervous system of the building. When it is working properly, it is not something you think about it. When something goes wrong however, it stops all motion. So too, with plumbing systems in apartment buildings. No other system or component of the building is so critical or put under so much daily stress than plumbing. No other system or component is so necessary that without it, a living space becomes completely unusable. This is especially true since many of the units in an apartment building are connected. An obvious example is a leaky tub from an upstairs unit leaking to the downstairs unit.
That said, knowing several good plumbers or plumbing companies becomes absolutely critical. Emergencies happen all the time and knowing more than one qualified plumber is essential. Like most things, this becomes more an art than science. A good rule to keep in mind is that you can use the same plumber for jobs under $500 but you should obtain multiple bids or quotes for larger jobs, no exceptions. In our experience, bids or quotes for plumbing jobs vary widely, one plumber can literally charge double or triple the amount for the same exact work. A little effort can go a long ways to saving you money. And to make things clear, when we say plumber, we mean a licensed and bonded plumber. Too many times we have seen apartment owners trying to save a few dollars here and there with a handyman or other unlicensed maintenance person, only to discover that they would have saved thousands of dollars by using the right kind of help.
Tip Number 2: Know your pipes!
There are only a handful of pipes in use today in most apartment buildings and you should know the most common: copper, pvc, pex and galvanized iron. Older buildings will generally have iron and copper. Newer buildings overwhelming using pvc and pex. In our experience, you should be wary of any plumber who declares one piping material superior over the others. Copper is generally thought to be among the best due to its natural corrosion resistant abilities but it is susceptible to corrosion from minerals (i.e. hard water) and more importantly, it is expensive. In addition, copper pipes can burst in colder temperatures. Los Angeles may not be the coldest city, but it has pretty hard water, making copper perhaps a less than ideal choice.
More important than the materials used for pipes however is its age. And regardless of what material is used, nothing can stop the damage caused by years of water flowing through the pipes. For a building with the same piping system in place for 20 years or more, there will undoubtedly be plumbing problems that will inevitable occur with greater and greater frequency regardless of whether they are made out of copper. Every situation is different but we have found pex and pvc piping to be just as reliable as copper in most cases.
We view the plumbing system as the lifeblood of any apartment building. No one can predict exactly how or when a burst pipe or clogged drain will appear, but knowing good plumbers, the type of pipes in your building and its relative age will go a long way to saving you money over the long term.